Healthy Living

Antidepressants May Offer Relief for Fibromyalgia Patients

Today, nearly every condition that has been identified in the world of healthcare has a medication to treat it.  From heart-related issues to joint pain, drug companies have found ways to to relieve or reduce severity of some of symptoms a patient must endure.  

In a study originally published in the journal known as Frontiers in Neurology, it sought to explore the possible benefits of reducing the severity of symptoms felt by fibromyalgia patients with antidepressant medication.  The study, entitled, “Adverse Effects of Antidepressants for Chronic Pain: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis” sought to ultimately provide a better quality of life for patients suffering from fibromyalgia by looking into an approach that reduces the side effects of the more traditional treatments used for the condition. 

Timo Siepmann, one of the leads on the research project, stated that, “Understanding adverse effects and their impact on patients’ quality of life is crucial in modern clinical medicine and poses a substantial challenge to clinicians who face an exponentially growing range of available medical therapies.”

An interesting insight gained from the study included the fact that although antidepressants may bring about undesirable side effects for those who are taking them for their specified purpose, fibromyalgia patients may not feel the same way in terms of how their body reacts to the certain drug or treatment.  For example, antidepressants often cause drowsiness.  For the patient who needs to either operate heavy machinery, or drive a car, this medication would most likely not suffice, whereas a patient experiencing chronic pain, causing them to toss and turn at night, may adjust to the sleepiness especially when wanting to sleep better at night.   

Typically treatment which often does cause drowsiness may not be a favorable for reducing symptoms in many fibromyalgia patients.  Since common symptoms brought on by fibromyalgia, namely fatigue and a decrease in energy, may very well be enhanced by the drowsiness that can come with antidepressant medications.  In this case, a class of antidepressants known as serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a type of drug that is also approved by the Food and Drug Administration, would serve as a better option for the given circumstance.

Although the study has yielded some key outcomes, most of the conclusions made by the study are merely hypothesis, as the recommendations for patients need to be better established in order to fully implement this method to be used in caring for patients with fibromyalgia.  For medical professionals across the globe, this means a more refined process by which they are able to create custom-tailored treatment plans based on a variety of antidepressants for possible use with lowering the symptoms experiences in fibromyalgia patients. 

When asked about the possibilities for the research associated with his study, he responded by saying, “further research is needed to improve general treatment recommendations and enable personalized multimodal therapy which is tailored to the patient’s individual health situation and includes non-pharmacological strategies in addition to pharmacotherapy.”

What is fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia consists of severe pain that is normally felt in the joints of patients.  The condition is the single most common pain disorder experienced in the United States, due to the fact that nearly 50 million citizens having reported having the condition.  The pain associated with the fibromyalgia is commonly referred to as widespread, and for pain to be classified in such a way the experience must be on both sides of the body.  The condition is often misdiagnosed, and can even go unnoticed for a number of years.  This is due in part to the fact that the condition can be confused with tiredness, stress and other experiences that can be very common and reasonable to encounter with otherwise healthy patients.

Some other common symptoms associated with fibromyalgia can include fatigue and difficulties focusing.  The condition can also exist alongside other painful conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome, migraines and other classifications of headaches, painful bladder syndrome, as well as temporomandibular joint disorders (pain experienced in the jaw).  Although the symptoms of fibromyalgia have been well-defined and have been associated with the condition for years, medical professionals are still unsure as to the actual cause. 

Theories surrounding the condition point to causes such as genetics, infections, as well as emotional or physical trauma.  In terms of the potential cause due to genetics, fibromyalgia has been identified as being passed down from family members, which may be due to certain genetic mutations that result in the symptoms of the conditions. 

Fibromyalgia has seen a variety of techniques in order to best diagnose the condition over the years.  An older method by the name of the “tender point exam,” where a doctor would firmly press on 18 specific points on the body, tested to see if the patient experienced  any pain when the certain points were pressed.  As time progressed, new methods were adapted, which ultimately got rid of the tender point exam. 

One of the current baselines used for identifying fibromyalgia in patients is if the affected individual experiences pain for more than three months with no other medical condition relating to the pain felt during the given time period.  In addition to this method, another technique has been employed when diagnosing fibromyalgia.  This method includes blood tests, although no lab test is fully capable of confirming fibromyalgia.  The blood tests very well can include a complete blood count, erythrocyte sedimentation rate, cyclic citrullinated peptide test, rheumatoid factor, and thyroid function tests.

Symptoms that come with fibromyalgia can differ based on the patient, just as the treatments can also differ.  At this current time, fibromyalgia does not have a definite cure, but is supplemented with various treatments and medications to reduce the severity of symptoms experienced by patients.  One common approach includes the use of pain relievers, as the condition brings about painful symptoms.  These can include non-prescription pain relievers like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and naproxen sodium. 

A more prescriptive-based approach can be suggested by doctors is known as tramadol.  Following pain relievers, another means of suppressing symptoms associated with fibromyalgia is the use of antidepressants, as mentioned above with the recent study.  This method is said to help reduce the pain and fatigue that comes with the condition.  These antidepressants include duloxetine (Cymbalta) and milnacipran (Savella), yet other antidepressants such as Pamelor (nortriptyline), Elavil (amitriptyline), Effexor (venlafaxine) had been research in the study. 

Another medication in this realm can include amitriptyline or cyclobenzaprine, which are different types of muscle relaxant.  One of the last proposed forms of medication includes the use of anti-seizure drugs.  Some of these types of drugs were created with the primary function to treat epilepsy, but have often seen applications in reducing specific type of pains.  These drugs include Gabapentin (Neurontin) and pregabalin (Lyrica).

The future for medications used for fibromyalgia

As technology continues to progress, as well as the continuation of medical research, healthcare professionals will being to better understand the best methods for treating fibromyalgia and the painful symptoms that come with the condition.  The condition currently has a plethora of options to be used to relieve the pain, but all of them depend on the specific patient and how they may react to the different forms of treatment. 

This being said, researchers and medical professionals will continue to provide treatments that cater to the entire spectrum of fibromyalgia patients by provided the specific care they need.  The treatments will ultimately put the world of healthcare one step closer towards alleviated the strains that are tied to fibromyalgia.